Dr. Cornel West is a Princeton University professor and author. Tavis Smiley is a television and radio talk show host and author as well. The two have known each other for a long time, and last year they toured the country to hear from citizens and talk about the issue of poverty in America. After their travels and discoveries, they published a new book together, The Rich and the Rest of Us. The central concept of the pair's appearances, including visits to news programs and public speaking, is that poverty is largely ignored as an issue. When Mitt Romney explained that he wasn't concerned about the very poor tanks to the systemic advantages this class is afforded, Romney was speaking from the system's perspective. Money rules politics, and only groups with significant amounts to pledge to campaigns or lobbyists can influence public policy. It's the way our democracy is designed, and it's not much different than when the country was founded. The primary difference is that wealthy corporations, not just wealthy individuals, have a bigger influence today. Democrats or Republicans, the power of money is the same. Smiley and West offer an interesting statistic. They claim that one in two Americans - half of this country's population - deals with poverty. 150 million people are in or near poverty, perhaps just one lost paycheck away from spiraling into a financial situation that could be difficult to fix. The authors are also including “new poor” in this figure, and the “new poor” are the former middle class. I'd like to get a chance to chat with either of the authors about this concept. Is the middle class truly poor? As a group, they are certainly better off than those in abject poverty. My understanding of middle class - and I realize that there are always ways to interpret classes differently depending on one's perspective - is that today's middle class is generally working, earning a paycheck, and somewhat able to spend beyond the basic physiological needs like food and shelter.